A visual testament to the horrors of Nazi cruelty is revived a generation after it first appeared.
Nonagenarian Benvenuti, a poet, critic, and scholar, hated the Nazis who moved into his native Italy. During the war, he “was tempted by the resistance movement,” though not enough to join it. After the war, provoked by conscience, he compiled a volume containing a few hundred depictions of the Holocaust, in black and white, by artists who were nearly all captive victims of Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps. Included was famous illustrator Feliks Topolski, who was present at the liberation of some camps; his works were presented as evidence at Nuremberg. Benvenuti’s book, first issued in a limited edition in 1983 featuring a foreword by Primo Levi (included here), was titled KZ, a German—and Yiddish—abbreviation for “concentration camp” or “internee.” The author, whom Levi calls “an observant and devout man, sensitive to the past and the present,” has added a handful of poems to the present edition. The images are arranged alphabetically by artist, a few well-known, most not. There are many portraits of hollow-eyed, gaunt prisoners, multiple scenes of guards at their work, several views of hangings, and scores of drawings of the skeletal dead and dying. Such works are beyond the now-banal pop depictions that increasingly displace firsthand witness. Collections like this may help inform a growing generation that knows nothing of the Holocaust or its lessons, but this is not the only place where such art may be found. Many of the same images are quite nicely reproduced in Janet Blatter’s Art of the Holocaust, published in 1981.
Stark renderings that go beyond simple aesthetic judgment produced by some of the artists who perished in concentration camps.